American elevators are generally civil and benign constructions of machinery. They don’t try to kill you; they try to help you. They are generally spacious; lack strange, mysterious goop dripping on the walls; are not cluttered with trash wrappers and beer bottles; and they don’t have a small coin slot for you to pay for their use (at least any I have used). Since they lack a coin slot, you are saved from the customary procedure of beating and punching the money box to enable the elevator to process your money which then allows you proceed to your next destination. Call me overly apprehensive, but I find it disturbing when I must beat an object before it lifts me six stories. My vehicle service teacher in high school used to poke fun at people who, when angry and bitter at their electronics and car parts, would resort to hitting or kicking them. “Hitting is for dimwits. It will never make things work.” He used to say. He obviously never went to the Republic of Georgia for Orthodox Christmas. Georgia has taught me a simple, three-step protocol for fixing things: 1. Hit it. 2. Curse at it 3. If it still doesn’t work, blame the damn Soviets for their cheap crap.
The best part about American elevators, though, is their gentleness and patience. When the doors begin to close a simple nudge or even a fingertip will stop them. They are in no particular rush. Safety seems to be their chief concern. Georgian elevators, meanwhile, have no regard for my clear intentions in both staying alive and keeping my four limbs functional and connected to my body. I am therefore the strange, ultra-paranoid American who has a phobia of elevators.
“Brian, hurry up.” The Georgians tell me. “We’re taking the elevator.”
“Ah, umm, that’s okay guys. I think I prefer to walk up seven stories in the dark over shards of broken glass and dozens of illegal electrical hookups. I need the exercise.”
Perhaps the strangest thing about Georgian elevators is their size. If you are a tad larger than a hobbit, a Georgian elevator is rather unpleasant. A good maximum number is three average-sized people. For some reason, people like to cram and finagle as many people as possible into elevators. It is sort of like a human jigsaw puzzle. Being 5’6” is usually advantageous for me while traveling, especially when it comes to leg room. But when scrunched in a Georgian elevator, it is better to be tall. While my tall friends usually lurk above everyone where they can breathe the remaining fresh air, I always seem to have some man’s ass rubbing against my back while my face is planted in some other man’s armpit. So besides feeling physically violated while taking the elevator, I must also listen to a man punch and curse the money box before we are lifted.
My most traumatizing elevator incident occurred in a hotel in Tbilisi. I had finished a seven hour train ride from my small village and was poised to take my first shower in over a month. I checked into the hotel and, seeing two of my friends standing in the elevator, darted across the lobby with my backpack hopping on my back. “Must get to elevator.” I chanted across the lobby. “Must take shower as quickly as possible!” Yelling English across a lobby where people are quietly reading newspapers and drinking coffee is a great way to get people’s attention. So when I lunged between the crashing elevator doors and realized they were not going to retract, my seven second battle of man vs. machine was witnessed by the entire lobby. After twisting, pulling, pushing and emitting several high-pitched screams, I escaped the elevator’s wrath and found myself drenched in sweat in front of a lobby full of people. I wanted to explain myself:
“Umm, hello. I am from America and…well…our elevator doors usually stop for people. I assure you, I am not stupid.”
Unfortunately, with my horrible Georgian accent, my speaking would probably have generated two reactions:
1.“What language is that strange man speaking?”
2.“You see, the man is nuts.”
So I did what I should have done from the beginning: I took the stairs.